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Sister: NYPD cop who killed self had mental evaluation in June after making threats

“They failed him epically. … It is NYPD’s fault,” she said in an interview

By Anthony M. Destefano and Michael O’Keeffe

NEW YORK — The sister of an NYPD officer who shot himself to death said the department cleared her brother for duty after a June mental health evaluation — even though he regularly threatened to harm himself or others.

Eileen Echeverria of West Islip, whose brother, 25-year department veteran Robert Echeverria, 56, took his own life Wednesday night, said she asked NYPD officials at least 10 times in recent years to provide mental health assistance to her brother and take away his weapons.

“They failed him epically. … It is NYPD’s fault,” she said in an interview Thursday. “A hundred percent. I begged them so many times, please take his guns, please get him help.”

NYPD officials briefly did take Robert Echeverria’s guns in June, his sister said. After a police therapist interviewed her brother two months ago and cleared him to return to duty June 19, the department gave him back his weapons, she said.

When asked specifically about the allegations, an NYPD spokesman said: “We are conducting an investigation.”

The department’s Force Investigation Division is charged with investigating officer-involved shootings, including cop suicides.

Echeverria, a married father of two who lived in Laurelton, Queens, became the ninth NYPD officer to die by suicide this year and the second this week. He grew up in West Islip, his sister said, and attended West Islip High School.

After four department officers killed themselves in June, the NYPD declared a mental health crisis among the ranks and urged cops to seek help for themselves or others in distress.

“I told [the Internal Affairs Bureau] my brother was going to kill himself,” Eileen Echeverria said. “I told them my brother is on edge, and that he is going to kill himself. He’s going to kill me.”

Her brother was most recently assigned to the Strategic Response Group, which responds to terrorist attacks and other incidents of civil unrest.

“The psychiatrist saw him once and then she says he’s OK and gives him his guns back,” said Echeverria, 52. “And almost two months to the day, he kills himself. What kind of doctors do they have? What kind of counseling do they have?”

NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea did not address the allegations but acknowledged the department continues to struggle with officer suicides.

“This is not unique for law enforcement,” Shea said. “For us, we are hurting right now. It has been a very tough year, and from the unions to the membership, to the executives in the police department ... we are all trying as best we can to work together, to come up with initiatives to do more.”

Echeverria was off duty and at home when he shot himself Wednesday night, police sources said. He was pronounced dead at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset.

“This is not a mistake you can fix with an eraser,” said John Walsh, 28, Eileen Echevarria’s son. “This is a tremendous tragedy that could have been avoided.”

The veteran cop had an 18-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter, his sister said. His wife, Sheila Echeverria, did not return calls for comment.

“My brother wanted to be a police officer from the time he could talk,” Eileen Echeverria said. “It was his dream.”

Early on Tuesday, NYPD Officer Johnny Rios became the eighth officer to die by suicide in 2019. Rios shot himself to death at the Yonkers home he shared with his fiancee and her children, the NYPD said.

Eileen Echeverria said her brother had struggled in recent years with severe financial and personal problems.

He had become enraged at times in the past and had threatened to harm others, she said — including her. Echeverria said she went to NYPD headquarters in lower Manhattan about seven years ago after he threatened to hurt his son.

“He was never a happy person,” she said.

Robert Echeverria also threatened to take his own life, his sister said. He once called her from a precinct house and said he was going to “eat a bullet tonight.” but she talked him out of harming himself, Eileen Echeverria said.

“I said ‘Bobby, please don’t do this, please don’t do this to our mother, please don’t do this to us,’ ” she said.

©2019 Newsday